Dennis Albert has a dream.
But making that dream a reality is going to be an arduous task.
Albert wants to put a Presque Isle High School girls varsity hockey team on the ice.
This coming season.
There are plenty of obstacles standing in his way.
First of all, Albert must raise $152,000, the cost to put a team on the ice and support it for three years as established by the high school administration.
“It’s the same thing that we did with the boys team 19 years ago,” explained Dave Heald, the Presque Isle High School athletic director. “If it seems to be successful after three years, we would take [funding it] over.”
Albert said they have raised $24,000, including a recent $4,500 grant awarded by the Aroostook County Committee of the Maine Community Foundation.
“I’ve applied for 16 other grants,” said the determined Albert, who has been involved in hockey since 1962, including 30 years coaching at various levels.
He has a daughter. Hillary, who plays hockey and will be a junior at Presque Isle High School in the fall.
“If they can come up with the funding, we’ll do everything we can to make it happen,” said Heald.
Albert feels they can start a program and maintain it for three years for less than $152,000.
The second obstacle is the scheduling.
Presque Isle’s closest rival would be Winslow. The two towns are approximately 220 miles apart.
There are no teams in the Bangor area.
“We would play two games on the weekend [against different teams], one on Friday and another on Saturday,” said Albert. “And teams that travel up here could play two games against us.”
“They will have a difficult time filling a schedule,” said Heald.
Mike Burnham, assistant executive director of the Maine Principals’ Association, said time is running out on Presque Isle as far as scheduling is concerned.
“The ice hockey schools are putting their schedules together now because ice time is so hard to come by,” explained Burnham. “Putting a schedule together at a late date would be very difficult.”
Burnham also pointed out that the girls season starts two weeks earlier than the boys season and ends two weeks earlier.
The girls will be able to start practicing on Nov. 8 while the boys can’t start until Nov. 22.
There are 17 high school girls teams in the state and they all play in the same class. There are eight teams in Eastern Maine and nine in Western Maine. Varsity high school girls hockey has been in existence for two seasons.
The third obstacle for Presque Isle involves having enough girls to sustain the program over three years.
Albert said there are 28 girls playing hockey in Presque Isle from ages 7-17.
“We would have 17 players this coming season,” said Albert. “We had 14 girls on an all-girls team that played in a league in New Brunswick this year against all-boys teams and one other girls team. Thirteen of those players will be in high school next fall. There is one girl who played on the boys varsity team at Presque Isle and three incoming freshmen.”
He said there were 14 girls who played on boys teams in the Presque Isle youth hockey leagues.
Boys leagues allow body checking. There is no body checking at any level in girls hockey.
Albert maintains that if Presque Isle had a varsity girls team, more girls would get involved in the sport.
“It would give them something to shoot for,” said Albert. “If we get a varsity girls hockey team, I’m sure the numbers would increase to the point we could sustain it.”
He said some girls don’t want to play in high school because they have to play with bigger, stronger boys and aren’t going to get much ice time.
Burnham said Presque Isle could be granted a waiver by the MPA to form a cooperative team with another high school (i.e., Caribou or Houlton) to help keep the numbers up.
Albert said they explored the possibility of merging with Houlton, but the Presque Isle administration felt it would be too costly due to travel expenses incurred for practices. Presque Isle and Houlton are 42 miles apart.
Caribou and other communities don’t have any high school-aged players right now and won’t have any for at least two years, said Albert.
But Albert is open to the notion of merging and feels the establishment of a varsity program would stimulate interest in other communities as well.
The Houlton-Hodgdon boys team is one of several co-op teams in hockey, including two girls teams: Cape Elizabeth/Waynflete and Gorham/Bonny Eagle.
Burnham said the MPA would be happy to sanction the addition of the Presque Isle High School girls hockey team as long as Presque Isle’s school administration approves it.
“We’d love to have more teams,” said Burnham.
If Presque Isle does field a girls hockey team, it must finish the season or face a two-year ban.
“If you drop a program before the start of a season, there’s no penalty,” said Dick Durost, executive director of the MPA. “But if you drop it during the season, that’s when you’d get the two-year penalty because it affects their opponents.”
Durost was the principal at Presque Isle High School when the boys hockey program began.
Burnham has been impressed with Albert’s determination.
“He’s very passionate and he’s making a very honest effort trying to raise money. He’s a gentleman, he asks good questions and he works hard,” said Burnham.
“He’s going after it. But it’ll be a challenge,” said Heald. “It’s an uphill battle for him.”